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A Thunderune Publishing LIGHTNING NOVEL By E.S. Wynn
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, locales, etc. is entirely coincidental. MINERVA ISBN: pending Copyright ©2011 E.S. Wynn Cover Art by E.S. Wynn First Edition: 2011, Thunderune Publishing www.eswynn.com All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed, in whole or in part, in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions. For information address: Earl S. Wynn, ATTN: MINERVA P.O. Box 3902 Sonora, Ca, 95370 PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author or the publisher has received any payment for this “Stripped Book”
Special thanks to: Desiree Oborn (Wynn) Lillith Era Daniel Dinsmore George Rinker
OTHER BOOKS BY E. WYNN: THE CYGNUS WAR: (Session 1) CTARSIS CRESCUE CDOWNFALL CWEAPON CAWAKEN (Session 2) CEREBUS CLAST RUN CTHE CYGNUS WAR (OMNIBUS EDITION) CTHE CYGNUS WAR (ITSG) PINK CARBIDE: CPINK CARBIDE CALUMINUM OPUS CCARBON ARIA LITERARY: CA MODERN CREATIVE WRITER’S WORKBOOK CA MODERN CREATIVE WRITER’S MANUAL CBEYOND OBLIVION --4-- .S.
the first ship capable of faster-than-light speeds to be constructed by the human race. This is the same TEV Minerva which has claimed nearly ten years of joint research and development between two corporate giants. folks. Already. It’s that kind of day. It’s that kind of day. November 16th 2124 will be a day that history will never forget. . is scheduled to be launched at 1400 GMT this coming Thursday. The experimental starship TEV Minerva. Senator Richard Odom is pushing the vote that it be made an international holiday. they’re calling it Triumph Day. Minerva Eclipse and Duke industries. the day we broke free.>>file #C82013-AT-20311 >>11/13/2124 >>opening newsfeed. This technological marvel has --5-- . .
In the command chair for this historic mission is no less than Captain Cindy Hawk.11 Displacement Drive. At the beginning of next week. while medical needs and biological studies will be led by none other than Nobel Prize winner Rosemary Glass. sports the highest caliber of security systems ever built and carries humanity’s first Eclipse 2. folks. whose work in the Amazon led to a cure for the epidemic of Hirstahli syndrome in 2067. And let me tell you. hero of the Eastern province police action and the woman singlehandedly responsible for negotiating the treaty between China and the West. runs a beefed-up version of Duke Industries’ own OS thirty-four point one. Fast enough to make Einstein blush. the crew of the Minerva –some forty-four of the most qualified engineers. medical personnel. Her second in command is Kim Ferox. Ph.been outfitted with the latest navigational software. Heading up security for the operation is Sergeant Thomas Vangelder. from our president’s own security detail.D’s. daughter of Nathan Glass. and support crew– will board the Minerva and be catapulted forward through hundreds of --6-- . she’s fast. a highly decorated lieutenant in Terra’s Black Navy and the youngest member of the Minerva’s crew.
arriving at a currently undisclosed destination where they will spend seven days recharging their engines. >>file terminates 01:34. Ted. November 23rd when we cover the triumphant return of humanity’s first FTL starship. .light-years of space in just a few moments. Thursday. --7-- . checking systems for stress damage and conducting various other undisclosed tests related to this exciting new FTL drive. . the TEV Minerva! Back to you. What will they find? What will they bring back? Tune in here.
That happens when you don’t sleep for days on end. I guess there really isn’t much to say. we all looked up to her because of her service record. In all likelihood. the extent of the damage she did. Where should I start? I have to say something about Captain Cindy Hawk. I mean. Sometimes I think it’s the filaments. somewhere. my brain.CHAPTER 1: I wonder if anyone back on Earth will ever receive this message. That happens when you’re locked in a closet-sized storage area a hundred and --8-- . I didn’t know her all that well. needling their way into my muscles. . I’ve got it around here. I swear I can feel them in my skin. Vangelder made a log of everything that happened. it’s just my own fatigue catching up with me. but after she airlocked herself. being a war hero and all. my bones. . I’m having trouble getting my bearings.
I can only imagine what the major news networks will do when we don’t come back on schedule. but to the people of Earth. who knows. I can still remember how insane the sheer number of news reports that flooded nearly every radio and television channel for more than a month before our maiden voyage seemed at the time. So what if we were breaking almost every law of physics with the experimental drive– it didn’t seem that important to me at the time. Maybe they’ll just sweep the whole thing under the carpet. that interest in space travel hadn’t waned to nothing after all. pretend --9-- . that seems like so very long ago. or worse. It was ridiculous. the media extravaganza that began before we had even left the International Space Station. the prelaunch news reports. and even that was just the tip of the coverage iceburg. it was proof that science was still alive. Home. surpassed every film in the theaters at that point in time. God.twelve lightyears from home. Then again. for an entire species. the kind of thing that only comes along once in a lifetime and leaves its mark on the memories of a generation for decades to come. It was an affirmation for an entire society. It broke records on its own. Minerva lost! They’ll say. You probably remember the hype we got.
even if they could find the investors. --10-- . it would be years. and that even then. People say it takes hundreds of years for a signal like this to reach Earth. . Kim to those who know me. If anyone finds this. another prototype to come and find out what happened. if there even is still such an organization when you find me. My name is Kimberly Raith Ferox. I’m recording a back-up copy just in case. Yeah right. . Even if they did. I doubt I’ll last more than a few hours.it didn’t happen and try again. Okay. but then. If you find me. I won’t last years. Maybe they’ll build another ship. Got to get this out now. receives this. even if Duke and Minerva Eclipse wanted to try again. that’s why I’m making the copy. My record is on file with the Black Navy.
but I always took it as a joke. probably within a few weeks of when I was to be moved from babysitting duty at the Duke Orbital Fleetyards for some planet-side duty. It doesn’t matter. It’s all in my file. acting captain. Accepting it would mean I’d be shipped from one space borne hunk of steel to another. I’m twenty two. back at training. the youngest member of the TEV Minerva’s crew. You don’t expect these things. I used to get the “Admiral Ferox” treatment from General Oborn. The ship would be launching in six months. the day that it all began. Never really got used to that. but it was a --11-- .I’m rambling again. I can still clearly remember the day that I got the communication offering me a position aboard the Minerva. . . Got to focus. . He sent me more communications during my four years in the Black Navy. officially serving as acting captain as of. Heh. Got to get back on track. probably used her own service record to influence my climb through the ranks. Ah. Sure. My mother supported my every career move. a lieutenant. . I don’t expect these things. but my father was the worrier.
. And I had a great respect for Cindy Hawk. I’m rambling again. . that’s who. The whole day was people saying things like “over here Miss Ferox!” and “turn this way please.once in a lifetime opportunity. Schwarzkopf. The press couldn’t seem to get enough pictures of Captain Hawk or the rest of the senior staff. I don’t know. experienced. She’s got that kind of character in the photos and interviews that just commands respect. Who takes pictures of people eating? The press. She was also only about ten years older than me. pictures of me walking or just looking at something and. The first day of the mission was festive. pictures of me eating. Miss Ferox. worst of all. Patton. about like you’d expect. Still young. The only real break any of us got that day was the dedication and christening. Churchill. I’m just glad I wasn’t asked to --12-- . . She was that kind of person. . which didn’t last nearly long enough. Jesus.” They had pictures of me with different members of the senior staff. You don’t pass up something like that. The idea of serving under her as her immediate subordinate was like being asked to serve under someone as mythic as. but strong. pictures of me talking to Captain Hawk.
make a speech. I had to smile almost constantly. I remember sushi. Duke and Minerva Eclipse threw a party that must have cost a fortune to import to the fleetyards. I should have slept in that day. The food was good though. And the day of the launch. and I’m being sarcastic here. other sea foods. and lots of it. but I enjoyed it. Lobster comes to mind as well. --13-- . lots of frilly things and little umbrellas. Candid shots. because the paparazzi kept popping into view and snapping pictures of me without warning. Yeah. No. things I couldn’t identify. The whole thing was ridiculous. it was excellent. fresh. which was fun.
The technicians at the Orbital Fleetyards had done their job. sent docking codes and jump coordinate instructions to Hurst and Garside in the control pit. Flight cleared us for go.” We were clear. positive. both men flashing their professional CEO-in-front-of-a-camera smiles.” The response from the pit being “check” and “nominal. and we got our official send off from Nayman Duke and Mark Gutierrez. I remember the sigh of relief I breathed as the last item turned up green. “Coolant lines. red against holographic feeds as sublight drives came to --14-- . given us a ship tuned as tight as nanowire. nothing dropped below expected levels. Flight data for our local lagrange point trickled in. I remember the checklists. the whole thing sliding off my tongue like lines in a play. as precise as laser lines. the launch was smooth. The whole thing went off as easily as they’d told us it would.CHAPTER 2 Don’t get me wrong. thrust assembly temp. Nothing hung us up. 100%.
I still remember the look in Captain Hawk’s eyes as she stepped down from her chair and said the words I doubt anyone will forget. We all knew what was riding on this mission. This is our next giant leap. the inflatables and everything else that hung in orbit. Captain Hawk made a gesture. If anything failed. They made us take a crash course in the theory behind it six weeks before the launch date. “We’ve taken enough small steps. something quick accented with your expected “take us out.” and then we were moving. turning away from the Fleetyards and lining up at a safe distance from Earth and the stations.” And then the drive kicked in. burning on maneuvering thrust. The five minutes it took us to get into position seemed to tick by in an eternity. the casinos. unless you like the idea of your entire --15-- . The basic idea behind it is terrifying. I won’t pretend to understand the physics behind the Displacement Drive. what it would mean if we failed. but all I remember is a chalk board and a lot of brain-bending math.life.
(and this is my understanding of it. Your ears pop. entangle them with the ship on a quantum level. As long as we stay within about half a lightyear of our destination. --16-- .body and everything else around it being instantaneously converted into energy for the split second it takes to “displace” the ship. It’s all still really experimental. though. the people around you look confused. and it feels like you’ve just stepped off an elevator that shot up five hundred stories through a layer of hell. other than the fact that it won’t be inside a black hole or a sun or anything with any real mass to it. a flash of light. The only downside is that we have no idea where we’ll end up. we can “recall” back to Earth through the existing entanglement connection as easy as flicking a couple of switches on the computer system that handles all the calculations for that. You breathe.) the drive is carefully calibrated to resonate with a random set of coordinates in deep space. just the edge of your whole body going hot. You’re there. You only feel it for about a split second. it’s definitely a unique experience. and then fling everything instantaneously to that point. Basically. and then everything stirs into action again. and then its all over. So yeah.
I saw the way everyone stared. There wasn’t supposed to be anything at our entanglement point. felt my own jaw drop a little. just space. Certainly not a chunk of rock studded with the complex latticework and lines of ruins. where are we?” “Calculating.“Report. certainly not a rogue asteroid.” Was the first word out of Captain Hawk’s mouth. Alien ruins. covered over with a mile of rock and ice collected slowly. It was a starship. hung something impossible. in the dead night of space. nothing with any mass larger than a cred chip. I know he didn’t finish his sentence. “Garside. Initial survey scans sent back results that shot shivers of excitement down everyone’s spine. Out there. impact by impact over an impossible span. The main structure of the thing was some kind of --17-- . beaten and broken. just endless blackness. projecting star placement and rolling back movement patterns for optimal–” I don’t think anyone heard what he said. I saw his mouth freeze. or something like it.
As the first officer.crystalline steel. All we cared about was our discovery. Captain Hawk put out the order to prep the Minerva’s twin belly-mounted transports. This thing was totally new. was sticking our hands into the unknown and yanking back whatever we could get our fists around. Doctor Rosemary Glass led the other. and with no sign of any of the hallmarks of the XTs our government had briefed us about. . glittering as we dropped searchlights across them. Everyone wanted to go aboard. long. Rose Glass. I led one group. I remember the buzz that shot through the ship like lightning. green-blue. everyone had questions. everyone wanted to study it. a piece of an impossible past we knew nothing about. broken towers as transparent as glass. about fifty thousand years old. we didn’t care. At the time. --18-- . assigned two teams of five to cram themselves into the pods for an impromptu expedition that we didn’t have the right equipment for or the protocols in place to perform properly. Cold. I still remember her eyes. . Nanobot filament probes came back within seconds. samples reading more refined than anything that could have been from Earth.
--19-- . those eyes.God.
how the total lack of space inside the tiny ships didn’t seem to bother any of us as we jammed together in our bulky vacuum suits. To us. Secrets beyond the cutting edge of our own fledgling sciences. it was the key to all of that. you name it. setting the bar and exceeding it twice in one day. There was still a lot about our galaxy we didn’t know. shoulder to shoulder under the low-clearance overhead viewpanels. writing history. technology still beyond our ability to understand. . the secret to eternal life. the fountain of youth. finding anything as old or alien as the ancient and beaten spacecraft was like finding the library of Alexandria. secrets no other human being --20-- .CHAPTER 3 Where was I? I still remember how excited I was when we climbed into the transports. We were making history. more even. For all we knew. bits and pieces that had only hinted at a distant past full of star-spanning empires. .
but human nonetheless. wove stitches and circuit board patterns of thread--21-- . Modified with an alien technology none of us could place. the tiny silver lines that threaded into his skull. DNA tests we ran later confirmed what the most adventurous already believed the second they caught sight of him through our headcam feeds. Carlton Langley. That’s what we thought.had ever encountered before. I still don’t completely understand it. Yeah. Modern human. And then. The kind of skull and build you recognize from the skeletons that people hang up at Halloween. Doctor Glass called him remarkable. He was human. . I remember thinking none of this makes any sense while everyone else chattered over his sunken eyes. couldn’t fit. what he was doing there. wanted to call him “Charlie. we found. why. .” after some character from some old book nobody else remembered. another piece of an empty puzzle that didn’t fit. Our chief XT technologist. the implants in his face. him. I called him impossible.
She couldn’t wait to get him back to the ship. clear. It wasn’t anything like this. It was almost disturbing. I still remember with shocking clarity the look on her face as she gently lifted his head and stared into his dead eyes. God only knows why. to analyze the tufts of --22-- . awestruck. faded red. Wherever he came from. or where that is. When we found him.thin chrome across bone. sort of a pastel. His vacc suit was red. curious. we found him collapsed against a wall. or why his ship was adrift. only totally devoid of any insignia or labeling. delighted. like something someone had dug out of an old cosmonaut locker. dusty. We’d been drilled on what to expect. Part of me hopes we never find out where he came from. clean blow. Or why he killed himself. perforating his suit and his heart in what Doctor Glass said had to have been a single. It was surreal. they hadn’t seen the point of name tags or national flags. a self-inflicted puncture wound where he had jammed a chunk of crystalline steel into his own chest. gloved hand on the cheekcurve of his viewplate like a loving mother inspecting her child for the first time. and it wasn’t this.
ancient freeze-dried skin still clinging to his face. I remember giving her the okay, let Doctor Cross help her carry the dead astronaut back to the transports. I had more important things to take care of, loose and excited PhDs to babysit as they wandered through the ancient starship, picking at things, trying to coax life back into systems that looked like consoles, databanks, life support. Now that I think about it, he was one of the first, one of the men in the crew mess when everything started. Doctor Cross. My god, why didn’t I see it?
I remember making regular runs back and forth to the Minerva that day, burning out a fuel cell on the transport and working with Esquer, our reactor chief, to replace it. Our science team was going over the ancient starship like excited children, running every test they could before it drifted away. Garside was the first one to notice the fact that the ship was still moving– I remember having a feeling that the transport runs were getting longer every time I made a trip out there and back, but I figured it was just the day dragging on. Rushed PhDs made suggestions on how to tie the starship down, ways to use the transports like battering rams to stop its drift or even drag it back to Earth with us, but the fact remained that we didn’t have the equipment to do any of it. We couldn’t even follow it without leaving the space our drive was entangled with, putting the entire crew at risk of being stranded in unfamiliar
space when the recall computer ticked over and swapped energy states with the lagrange point near Earth again. I remember the arguments, the screaming fights, the men and women who almost came to blows over the whole thing, the fact that we had run across what was probably the greatest discovery in the history of humanity and yet we had to let it go. Our only option was to let it slip through our fingers. It hurt, and we were all already feeling the loss. There was still a lot of speculation about why we had encountered the ship at all, the fact that it had been slowly drifting over the last fifty thousand years on a course toward the galactic core which, as if by chance or design, just happened to intersect with our randomly-assigned jump coordinates at the exact moment we displaced ourselves into them. It was almost like someone had known we would be here, running tests, scientists primed to the gills for discovery, fifty thousand years later, pressed into a fervor by the fact that we were about to lose something of this magnitude as suddenly as we had found it. . . Maybe they had.
Basically using a black hole to time travel. but work went slow. leaving the bulk of the systems trailing out like the spilled innards of a burst gut as the thing drifted along toward its inevitable discovery. trying not to blow out the little bit of information that hadn’t been lost to fifty thousand years of degradation. The researchers who had climbed up into what was probably the ship’s reactor room were getting some weird readings off the equipment there. Don’t ask me how it works– I doubt even Rosenblatt really knew. Rosenblatt had some theory that was circulating about the origin of the starship. Voynich and Langley were learning a whole new system of technology and coding while racing against the clock. but the whole thing had opened to space thousands of years ago in what looked like a violent explosion. There was talk of progress in recovering some of the data in the ancient starship’s databanks. teaching each other. something about the tachyon scarring on the crystalline structures being consistent with a rough passage through a gravitationally induced reversed dilation passage or something like that. The whole thing kept us going like a jolt of stims.I remember Dr. experimenting. Our Simplesoft AI was running practically twenty-four hours a day trying to decrypt --26-- .
I remember someone saying something about a breakthrough. The rest of us caught what she’d already screened for anything that the brass back home might have stamped as sensitive and carted off to a --27-- . Captain Hawk had left me in charge of Operations. eleven hours before the ship was supposed to drift out of range. Updates on the datacore of the alien derelict were the only thing that Captain Hawk hadn’t handed off to me. something about a simple algorithm. staring into nothingness. a stream of data that had been unlocked in the starship’s core and translated. trying to sort out what was data and what was something else entirely.and process every chunk of coding the two technicians threw at it. I probably should have. She hadn’t taken any chances after Rosenblatt’s theory got around. she was always the first to know. like a dream full of people that ends and leaves you suddenly hanging in an empty vista. and I had my hands full with every request and study that would have otherwise been hers to deal with. an executable that a couple of the technical staff were trying to run. It happened so quickly that it was almost surreal. Thinking back. And then. but I didn’t listen. everything got quiet. and the way the chain of command worked.
--28-- .warehouse somewhere until the world was ready for it. Still. I don’t think any of us saw the explosion coming.
CHAPTER 5 I was in my cabin when Captain Hawk blew the Minerva’s Displacement Drive into space on a carriage of plastic explosive and took a fusion welder to the recall computer. By the time the reactor crew had rushed in to put out the fires and panic at the extent of the damage.” God. she had already locked herself in the forward egress hatch and jammed the eject lever. jamming my finger against the earpiece.” “Where are you?” I remember asking. you’d better get down here. I was halfway to the reactor. collected. as smooth as polished ice. clean and clear across my earmike. “This is Doctor Glass. “Ferox. --29-- . running. her voice was always so calm and cool. pulling a uniform over my undershirt when I got the call. buttoning with one hand.
going over the damage.” Both the forward and rearward egress bays on the Minerva consist of a single wide cargo receiving area aimed at a solid failsafe airlock access collar which is. It’s nice to be able to go down five decks from Ops and stare at the stars.” Came the simple response. “I’m on my way. Vangelder and Glass talking with him in hushed tones. “It’s Captain Hawk. I remember being shocked into a dumb silence. Especially when the first thing you see beyond the viewplate is your captain floating there. totally unable to process what had happened.“Forward egress bay. arguing about whether they really should. stricken face staring into nothingness. framed by a pair of large observation viewplates. in turn.” My own words came just as quick. half practical. Esquer was already there. It’s half aesthetic. It seemed so --30-- . discussing ways to reel the captain back in. but I’ve always felt more secure in egress bays made of solid alloy composite than a few inches of transparent superpolymer.
reality coming to me in snatches. given me the extent of the damage Cindy had caused. kept pulling my eyes away. Captain Hawk’s twisted features kept haunting me. I remember standing there as he talked. And it was our heroic captain who had put us here. It was impossible to process. It wasn’t until Esquer broke the silence that I knew what had happened. “What should I do?” I remember asking. and then Esquer looked away. so surreal. mind dropping further and further away. He’d said all there was to say. We had no way to get home again. The verdict was clear. I remember the way Doctor Glass’s hand went to her chin. everything the captain had done before airlocking herself. I swallowed.sudden. “What can I do to help?” --31-- . so wrong. sense of direction broken. the claw-like fingers. We were stranded. mind blank. the way Vangelder looked at me with a mixture of frustration and pity. the teeth drawn and sharp in the subtle glow of the Minerva’s roving forward searchlights.
and no way to fix the drive or the recall computer we needed to take us home.” “I’ll put together an investigation. then added: “I’ll find a way to get us home. “There has to be a way to get home. . uneasily. we had three days of rations. “I’ll. lost.” It was the only thing I could think of. certainly not a crew like mine out of a hopeless situation like this. and soon everyone would know it.” “You do that.” He signed. Captain Hawk’s hat a weight hanging heavy in my hands. --32-- . work with Vangelder. figure out what went wrong.” I remember saying. more out of desperation than belief. the only plan my mind could throw together in the moment.“Stay out of the way. didn’t believe I could lead. Give us moral support or something. Esquer frowned softly as I swallowed again. I wasn’t ready to lead.” Esquer told me. We were screwed. then plodded off.” My response was absent. At most. four or five if I could convince the crew to stretch them. “You’re the captain now. Let my team handle all of the real problems. leaving me alone in the egress bay. . pushing the captain’s cap into my hands. Ferox.
but I did that anyway. Captain Hawk had left her access card in the slot for the airlock controls. but it never happened. half expecting to be called in by Vangelder at any moment to transfer command permissions. I’d pocketed it.CHAPTER 6 My mind was blank. I wanted answers. anything I could work with that would put me on the right track. I wanted a way. There was no suicide note to put words behind --33-- . About as futile as boxing Captain Hawk’s things and writing a letter to her next of kin. I wanted something. I had no idea where to start. I started by going through Cindy’s quarters. Maybe we both realized how futile the whole thing was.
but it wasn’t an act of desperation. bare with a bed and a desk. space the engine and just enough critical systems to strand us a hundred and twelve light years from home. something to focus on besides our dead captain’s face as she floated off into the endless. I boxed it all. a dry college textbook about viruses and vectors I should have looked at. Questions with no answers. portable terminal. A book lay open on the floor. I remember turning her cap over and over in my --34-- . Not even a scrap of paper to indicate why a war hero like Cindy Hawk would snap so suddenly. really.whatever reason she’d had to flush herself into hard vacuum. It was something to do. a simple lamp and a picture of a dog. I guess there was a part of me that felt compelled to go through the motions of prepping the package for her family and writing the letter all parents dread to get. Nothing. labeled it for return to her family. starry void or the impossible distance between us and a home we knew we might never see again. or optimism. I just boxed it and moved on. Captain Hawk’s quarters were about as spartan as they come. but didn’t. locked her cabin and moved on. There were only questions.
a lieutenant placed above commanders. and I still wasn’t sure I had the strength of character to fill them. I was the youngest member of the Minerva’s crew. I remember sighing. I wasn’t the leader they all expected me to be. men and women with decades of experience. doctors. --35-- . the leader we all would need to get home. I couldn’t find the strength to put it on yet. seal away whatever clues I missed to the mystery that made sense to no one. I wasn’t the leader I knew they needed.hand as I keyed the sequence that would seal her quarters. Not yet. Captain Hawk had left big shoes to fill. pressing my forehead against the cold bulkhead in frustration.
asked him if there was anything I could help with. He was discussing bypass options with one of his techs. but I didn’t feel like staying out of the way. Ferox. another pair of technicians hung working in the hard vacuum of the blasted-open core. --36-- . Esquer had said.CHAPTER 7 Stay out of the way. Beyond them. Esquer’s team had been busy. moving as quickly as they could with a pair of fusion welders. and the last thing he wanted to deal with was me. I still remember the look on his face when I ducked into the reactor control room. her clipboard scattered with workarounds and ways to get critical systems off overtaxed backups or unburden the backups so they would last longer than a handful of hours. I didn’t know what to do. a young woman in a pair of coveralls smeared with grease.
” I remember saying. “You can start by getting us a new engine. forced us to come up with new workarounds --37-- . crawling into maintenance passages and hard bypassing systems that the loss of the reactor had left compromised. breaking out the few flashlights we had and passing them out among the senior staff. little things that shot holes in our plans. but setting it up took time. just doing damage control. ways and places to cut power in order to keep the backup systems from failing in the foreseeable future. Minimizing life support in the cargo bays and other areas of the ship that were normally left empty of crewmen rounded out our plan.” He said. trying to get the ship running smoothly again. . Errors started cropping up.” “If wishes were Displacement Drives.“Yeah. wiping sweat and grease from my eyes. more time than it should have. . the kind of system failures we’d never seen on the Minerva before. “we’d all be home by now. Options had to be discussed. Together. I spent hours in the core with Esquer’s team. we plotted out a pattern of systematic switch-off periods which would conserve power and disabled the lighting in all non-essential passages.” Most of what needed to be done was greasy work.
tried to lose myself in the stars beyond the viewplate. A little irritability was to be expected. the hallways dim. all punctuated by nervous laughs. --38-- . how he’d heard about similar problems among Vangelder’s security team. but I remember Esquer complaining about irritability among his staff. I had a cup of coffee with Esquer in Operations. giving the men and women under my command something to look forward to in a sea of hopelessness. uncomfortable smiles. we were all fighting the hopelessness that comes from being stranded so far from home with no real hope of rescue and no real hope of survival. it was. The air was cold. At the time it all seemed so innocent– we were all on edge. the showers offline altogether. It was almost like the system was fighting us the whole way. Only the crew mess was fully lit and kept at temp. I don’t remember how we got on the subject of crew morale. At the end of the day. Bad jokes about cannibalism were being passed around.that ultimately led to new failures. I know now that somehow. It was the closest any of the senior staff could really come to being able to unwind. It was the least I could do while my mind sluggishly fought to come up with a plan.
struggled to find something leader-like to say to them all that would inspire them and save all of us. In the end though. --39-- . and sip my coffee. Stare. all I could do was stare at the stars.
it started in the crew mess. supervising the team that was packing in the last of our research equipment before the ancient starship drifted out of range entirely. keeping myself busy. died. Reports of shorting systems shot through the ship. keeping them busy.CHAPTER 8 No one expected it when things suddenly got crazy. I was in operations. faded. then pounded a fist against the display. threatening failure. Lights flickered again. And then the reports started coming in. died. came back online. accompanied the deep. struggled with the systems for an instant. mechanical groans of critical systems like life support grinding down to a halt. Esquer ran to the nearest data terminal. starting up again almost immediately and coughing. Lights flickered. --40-- . When it started.
the men in the mess were completely unrecognizable. a sickening twisting of the skin as men and women that had once been friends buried their lengthening teeth into each other’s flesh. glittering nails. gave way to snarling. it all led to biting. By the time security arrived. watched men and women twist into animals. but things got out of hand almost instantly. kicking– in the end. bodies changing. eyes spinning back into sockets. filling screaming faces with needle-thin filaments of drilling. I remember the way my jaw dropped as I stared at the feed security had patched through to operations. vicious. beasts of steel and surging muscle that roared and pinned the unaffected to the ground. I remember the way they turned as one and fell upon their terrified. tore into each other with viciously sharp. viscous chrome. becoming broken. screaming for an instant before they each fell silent.At first I thought it was just a brawl. turned weird. unaffected brethren like wolves. panicked flurry. Punching. I remember watching as terrified crewmen fought in a blood-thick. tensions cracking the cool we were all trying to keep. turned messy. hair pulling. --41-- . blossoms of mechanical patchwork crawling their way across rippling. faces vibrating. silver studs. mutating flesh. demonic. clawing.
changed him. My ship. an unspeakable army primed to spread like a cancer through the entire ship. surged over and through his team like maggots on a corpse until the whole wad of flesh and --42-- . I was there. watching the birth of something horrible. trying to override the uncooperative controls. the blue glow of hot muzzles going off over and over again desperately. totally oblivious to the ocean of meat and steel that surged to life like a massive. it was too late. My mouth worked in silent circles as I tried to find the words to warn him. our chief of security. splashing through the opening like a blood-mottled tide and washing over Vangelder’s men instantly. there was stunner fire. to warn anyone. singular muscle just beyond his pounding fist. yelling. watching the change take every member of the crew locked in the mess. Our ship.twisting into shapes as gruesome as those of their attackers. I remember Vangelder. Vangelder’s team cracked the door the instant the sea of twisted flesh and steel fell against it. slamming his hand against the door to the mess. In the flash of a second. but by the time I touched the headset hanging from my ear. I caught Vangelder’s scream. the flash of his teeth flecked with blood as they swallowed him. I was there. I was the only one who knew. his lieutenant’s bypass lines.
the controls. my heart. but the system fought me at every turn. I remember asking myself what Cindy Hawk would have done. jammed the comm. the level. from one stream of carnage to another. remember wondering if it would have been anything more courageous than suicide. split apart and surged off into the ship. My hands hung on the console like dead fish. looked to me for answers. all I could do was stand there. my voice. We were cut off. I swallowed. anything to minimize casualties. In the end. only one thing I could think to say. forcing steel into my eyes. refused every command with error after error. There was only one option in the moment. leaned forward. “Break out the --43-- . I panicked. for the leadership I didn’t know if I could provide. struggled through the failing bypasses in an attempt to seal off the section. vectors of an unstoppable cancer. And then the feeds died altogether. I closed my eyes. alone. I could feel the eyes of everyone in operations as they fell on me. pulled in a shaky breath. and probably minutes from being overrun.steel moved as one. the networked comm for our earmikes dropping suddenly into static. “Seal the doors.” I remember turning. eyes flicking from video feed to video feed.
it was probably already too late. No one else in the ship would get any warning unless we gave it to them.” We had to work fast. fingers pressing into tired eyes. My thoughts scattered. We’d already lost too many. My hand went to my face. We were going to lose a lot of people. Jesus Christ. For some.emergency radios and send out the call. weld the doors and wait for further instructions. Tell everyone who’s still alive to seal themselves into whatever sections they’re in. What the hell am I going to do now? --44-- . and we were about to lose more.
We all agreed that it must have been the filaments we’d seen. We needed options. secretly passed from --45-- . Doctor Halloway had a theory about how the filaments had spread initially. Nothing concrete. In less than twenty-four hours. lost control of our ship. nothing provable.CHAPTER: 9 I put Esquer on getting the comms back and isolated from the central hub. vague ideas of how its influence was transmitted. the needle-thin lines that shot from twisted faces like drills of liquid silver. but ideas nonetheless. eating into skin. We’d lost too much. flesh. we all had our own. and I wasn’t willing to lose anything else. clear ways to coordinate and communicate as fast as we could manage it. After witnessing the change that had shot through our crewmates in the crew mess. we’d lost our only way home. and lost at least half of our crewmates.
” It was enough to put us all on edge and make us all wary around each other. pushing into skin. just for a moment. wedging themselves between threads after a pat on the back or the meaningless touch of a passing crewmate. The idea of it was simple: if anyone turned. ideas about how the filaments probably burrowed into the blindspots of the nervous system like tiny needles. did anything to jeopardize our safety as a unit. they --46-- . eager nanofilaments drilling through suits and uniforms. wriggling their way through flesh until they reached the brain. no one really trusting anyone else. piling on the detail. I remember the way he described it almost gleefully. The only way to keep everyone calm was to enforce a strict no-contact policy between crewmen. He had more theories than any of us could stand.person to person in the tiny pin pricks and shocks that sometimes pass between touches– the kind of thing you notice. each of us staying isolated from each other. talking about the way they probably hid themselves in clothes. “From there” he said “zey must spread like ze wildfire. but just barely. and never enough to notice the transmission of something no wider than thread. no longer than a splinter.
bypassed and --47-- . struggled with the hesitation. This was real– everyone was acutely aware of the price tag that came with losing control. I put out the first call. no questions asked. the worry. Yeah. but it worked. Really quiet. to patch the network through simple. put out a call. Nobody. get nothing but static back in response. echoed screaming in an ocean of white noise. She’d gathered the only other group of survivors into medical. The only response was Doctor Glass. It kept us quiet. Every few minutes. and even then the earmikes we were wearing put out almost nothing but static. it was direct. someone would check the radio. I knew there had to be someone else left somewhere on the ship.would be shot. Voices drifted through the haze. isolated lines to every earmike on the ship. even fascist. Not like in the movies where someone panics and people start shooting each other out of fear or paranoia. It wasn’t until almost an hour had passed that Esquer got the comms isolated and back online. It took almost another hour to clean up the feed. The first response was Doctor Glass. and nobody stepped out of line on my watch.
She’d figured out a way to screen for it. discovered what we in Ops could only speculate on. then welded the door. she’d found a cure. She’d found a way to save us all And all I had to do was get to her. and most importantly. to tell who had been infected. she’d put her equipment to work.isolated the controls. But more than that. She’d found a way to reverse the effects. She’d isolated the vector. --48-- .
and with the computer systems on the fritz. one laid out directly over the other. --49-- . The whole thing is built with decompression dangers in mind– the second the system detects a significant drop in pressure in a given fifteen foot section. it’s dangerous. armored and studded with breach-locks every fifteen feet. It’s small. A single long. four-foot square ventilation duct sits sandwiched between them.CHAPTER 10 Anyone who is familiar with the specs of the Minerva knows she’s one hundred and seventy meters from stem to stern and built around a central corridor that spans two levels like a pair of spines. the breach locks seal off and isolate the entire area. But it was still the safest way to get to Ops from medical without going toe-to-toe with the things our fellow crewmates had shed their skins to become. it’s unforgiving.
then figure out my next step from there. If not. I remember spreading a map of the ventilation system out against the wall with Esquer. Half of the men in Ops must have volunteered the instant they caught on to what I was planning to do. discussing possible places to punch out in case I ran into trouble in the ductwork. drag it back. something.” The plan I had was simple: clear the way. . bypass and isolate each breach lock between Ops and Medical. I figured I could just push that through the ductwork. I hadn’t thought that far ahead yet. I did a lot of silent praying that whatever it was that was playing with our systems. things with claws and the disposition of a pack of rabid wolves aren’t so easy to deal with. “Besides.” I remember telling them. If Rose had put together a kit I could carry back to screen everyone in Ops. but the ducts can get pretty narrow in places and you have to have a small frame to squeeze through. “I’m the first officer. .Breach locks can be bypassed. It’s my duty. locking us out and forcing us to operate everything on isolated manual --50-- . well.
still needed life support. push myself forward and squeeze headfirst into the ducts. used the sides of my arms to follow the feeble --51-- . I still remember the sound of Esquer and the pilot setting back the plate they’d cut free. Garside passed me a radio. the finality of it all. It took me only another moment to start moving. really terrifying. Fighting claustrophobia is the worst part about climbing through ductwork. Rapidcoolers from Esquer’s toolkit made fast work of the rest. I wouldn’t have had a prayer. then tossed in one of the half-empty fusion welders. If it didn’t. a bypasser. it wouldn’t take long to find out– the system was perfectly capable of automatically blowing the pressure seals on the egress hatches the second I started bypassing breach locks toward Medical. a stun pistol and a flashlight. I had the flashlight in my teeth. It was terrifying. made it possible to dive right into the ductwork seconds after we’d opened it. still needed us. If anything was already in the vents. It took five minutes to locate a spot in the flooring where the ductwork was big enough to crawl into and then use fusion welders to cut a hole down through the plating to it. the hiss of the fusion welder sealing off the only sure way of escape behind me. in case I ran into trouble. to swallow my fears.
It’s simple. Ops was the brain of the ship. praying my bypasses would hold. but I couldn’t trust them. couldn’t help pushing myself fast through every lock. secure. it had to be complex. Everything about it emphasized function over form. I have no idea how long it took me to crawl from one end of the ship to the other.beam of light deeper and deeper into the darkness. that endless staccato crack of flesh and bone hammering against reverberating alloy plate. Esquer said it had something to do with security and aesthetics. that kind of thing. Medical wasn’t much more than a large walk-in closet with a pair of narrow beds tacked to the wall. It had to look classy. praying it wouldn’t suddenly seal. punches straight in and ends in a grate of solid alloy that sits flush with the wall. I could hear the things throwing themselves against Medical’s sealed door even before I reached the mouth of the vent. It felt like hours. It felt like an eternity. Three breach-locks away and the sound still --52-- . and easier to access than in most areas of the ship. The central ventilation shaft that spiders into Ops in passages so narrow you have to cut your way in with a torch hits Medical at ceiling level. effective. Bypassing breach-locks went fast once I got the hang of it.
the way they turned to relief. somehow. a sort of secrecy. I found the strength to move. Stun pistols snapped up the instant I kicked at it. I’ve never seen eyes like Doctor Glass’ eyes. --53-- . that sort of wet. Fear paralyzed me. echoed in at me in a way that was tinny and haunting. clear ocean. And then. I still remember the looks of fear. teal. They’re aquamarine. but somehow I managed to twist myself sideways and lash out at the grate that opened into medical. held me. held through the three more kicks it took to knock the plate loose. it was all I could do to breathe. wariness. hang still and unmoving against the coffin-tight ventshaft. For a moment.gave me chills. the way her lips formed the words everyone else was thinking. The way they let their guard fall so easily. but there’s also a depthness to them. snared my eyes. I remember the way she stepped forward. green-blue shade you see on the placid surface of a deep. There was barely enough room to turn in the ductwork.
fell onto the stunned crewmen one by one. skin scorched and burning as they filled medical. green-blue as the tide flexed and rolled around her. Medical was swarming with the things. What the doctor had known all along. whatever it was that --54-- . never touching her. triggered it and blew a line of plasma at the one door in or out of Medical was inhuman.” I remember her saying. burning. malleable. a sea of twisted flesh surging around the doctor. thank god. traced silver circuit board patterns across her skin in thread-thin lines of brilliant chrome. The grace of her fingers as they ripped the broken welder from his hands. never. In an instant. the door was a red-hot slab.” Then.“She’s here. as if in some kind of twisted dream. And then I knew in that moment what Captain Hawk had known. she immediately and effortlessly cold clocked one of the men standing near her and snapped the flow valve of his fusion welder with impossible ease. incredible. In the space of a breath. her eyes flashing. Tiny filaments blossomed along the edges of Rose’s face. She was the vector. She was patient zero. It took less than a second for the things to throw themselves through the soft alloy. and whatever it was that was changing the crew. “Oh.
--55-- . tearing at my uniform. She had infected the entire crew. I don’t know whether it was the pain or the sound. blipped to life with a pop of static as I clipped the edge of another pressure seal and tumbled into the next section.was infecting them. Ops. dropped the breachlock between me and Medical. to possess me. Everyone but me. She had killed us all. drilling needle-fine filaments through steel in an attempt to get at me. the filaments– she had spread it. What could I do? I darted back into the vents and kicked the first bypass I passed. I remember jamming myself sideways into the vent. trying to get at the radio. I had no options– I ran. throwing themselves against the sealed breach-lock. between me and Rose. scrambled back through the ventilation shaft toward Ops as fast as I could. fusion welded it at the seams. Within seconds the things were swarming into the ducts. make me one of them. I was lost. My emergency radio cracked against my hip. hitting the bypass units at every breach-lock I passed. but it shook me out of my panic– and then I remembered.
Words tumbled from my mouth in a panicked blast as I jammed the mike. anyone. I just remember the response. I remember that all I could hear was screaming. I remember the screams. --56-- . the sound which shot through the static when my thumb slipped off the transmit button.fingers desperate. the only thing I could think of. It was the only plan I had. I had to tell them. I don’t even remember what I said. had to tell someone.
sealed myself in.CHAPTER 11 That’s how I ended up here. At best. the things my crew had become might leave me alone. --57-- . My ship was overrun. trapped in the ductwork. trapped between two slaughterhouses surging with carnage. I was alone. with men and women hungry for blood. a way out. My crew was dead. it might hold the things at bay for a few minutes once they hit it. trapped in my fifteen foot stretch of ductwork. I needed a plan. shoot straight down the ductwork and devour me. Any minute they’d break into the shaft. I jammed the bypass at the opposite end of the duct reflexively. Hungry for me. At worst. They knew I was in the vents now. slowly suffocating while I fought to throw together a plan.
but until then it was just dead weight. My fusion welder might have given me an edge. too heavy even to throw. pushed it back into my uniform. fingered the bypass remote. And then I found Captain Hawk’s security clearance card. and I didn’t hold much faith in my ability to hold off a rabid mob of claws and teeth with something that wasn’t much better than a club. I knew it might buy me some time if I had a solid door to hide behind. My stun pistol was virtually useless. I checked my pockets. tossed the radio. every option I could throw together. There hadn’t been time to transfer her security permissions yet. much less buy me any time. it was that stunners wouldn’t even slow the things down. I’d forgotten that I had stuffed it in my pocket after clearing out her cabin. to give me full --58-- . Might need it later. I remember thinking. but then only at point blank range. I remember staring at it for a long moment.I remember doing a quick inventory of everything I had on me. If Vangelder’s death had taught me anything. Panic began to set in again.
command clearance. through a hundred meters of dark corridor still crawling with members of an insane crew that wanted me dead. but the nature of the mission was enough to convince the brass back Earthside that the ship needed more than just the handful of stunner pistols in the armory or seven days worth of rations in the storage bay. but it didn’t matter now. thirty feet by thirty feet with two temporary crew freezers. Including the executive hold. The Minerva wasn’t supposed to have run across anything at all in the deep darkness of space. It was captain’s access only. wanted to consume me. Her clearance card would get me into any locked door on the ship. But it was also three decks below me. The executive hold was their backup plan. much less anything dangerous. --59-- . their insurance policy on a mission that had the potential to make or break humanity’s imminent rush into the depths of space. three crates of dry MREs and three phased plasma pulse rifles with enough forty-watt ammunition to turn the ship into swiss cheese from the inside out.
shot through passages on clicking. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. froze. Lieutenant. and twice I froze. When I was on the ground. I ran. heart pounding in my ears as I listened. I knew it was my only option. spitting howls of my crew hunting me. strained to hear anything that might tell me how close the things were. I hesitated. to cut the bottom out of the vent and crawl out into the deck beneath me. Nothing. Shadows moved in the darkness. I remember how much resolve it took to take that first step. seared the edges of my hands as I lowered myself as quietly to the floor as I could. which access panels ran ladders through the maintenance passages that would get me to the belly of the ship. terrified hands. I told myself. Twice I thought I heard scraping. --60-- . I knew exactly which way to go. the roaring. clawed feet as lights guttered and died. devouring each other. I moved. One foot in front of the other. breath coming fast. The edges of the hole were hot from the fusion welder. clinging to the wall with the fusion welder tight in my sweaty. leaving me alone.In the end. lost.
--61-- . At least there I’d have a chance. Not an option. a better plan than running and hiding in narrow crawlspaces. soldier! Breaking out of the terror that gripped me was like shaking ice off of my skin. I knew I was dead if I stopped moving. Just got to keep moving. if I gave up and stopped anywhere short of the executive hold. Steel-grated flooring pounded past as I ran for the hold. At least there I could hold out until a better plan came to me. hoping nothing found me. every crawling urge I had to just retrace my steps and seal myself back into the vent system. heart pounding in my head. To move was to fight every instinct. jammed my fear into the back of my mind and rushed ahead. I screamed. hoping the system wouldn’t trap me and vent me to space. adrenaline jamming my feet against the floor so fast it felt like I might tumble into a heap if I stopped.Now move. sharp teeth flashing. streaming out of passages and corridors like insects swarming after a threat. I remember thinking. In seconds they were on me. vicious and snarling. forced myself forward.
--62-- .And then I saw the door. And the tide of bodies that rushed up from either side of me to block it.
I’ve never moved like that before. snapped inches from my face as they fought the bulkhead. brushing skin. ripping into fabric. Even in training. catching at the edges of my uniform. I remember swinging my fusion torch like a club. twisted --63-- .CHAPTER 12 I don’t know what came over me. tried to keep it from sealing. clawed fingers flexing. keening. slammed my hand against the controls and jammed the emergency pressure seal switch inside as quickly as I could. I still remember their white-eyed. Somehow I reached the door. hands twisting. Filaments darted and stung toward me. catching one of the things in the side of the face so hard it sent him reeling. Teeth clicked and flashed. even in aptitude tests where they psyche you and jam you into a rat-maze full of simulated nerve-burners to see how you really move under pressure.
I realize that it really is only a moment. eyes wide. But. It never stops. the dripping screams that ripped from their razor-edged jaws as I twisted open my fusion welder to full bore and burnt them away from the bulkhead. They haven’t forgotten about me. struggling to breathe. superheated the edges just enough to give it the break it needed to close. I can hear them pounding. Here. throwing themselves against the bulkhead door over and over again. for a moment. I was safe. at least. They’re still out there. My fusion welder sputtered at my feet. grinding servos I’ve spot-welded together with the little bit of fuel left in my fusion welder. a breather between everything that has come before and the rush that is sure to come after. tank almost empty. Even the computer system patiently continues its attempts to remotely override my bypasses. I have no doubt --64-- . Eventually they’ll get through.faces. They never stop. now. I remember how cool the floor felt as I collapsed against it. throwing themselves against it until their bones start to snap and crack. to sink fully into its groove and lock. It’s a horrible sound.
Maybe there’s a --65-- . even if it wasn’t swarming with these things. They’ll force open the door. I couldn’t jump the ship back even if I wanted to. Eventually the servos will give. I’ll have to face them all or become one of them. this cancer. The Minerva is the only ship of its kind. They couldn’t. another starship collecting rock and ice over fifty thousand years. The people back Earthside aren’t just going to crank out another one in a week or two to come get me. My god. Two more days and we’ll be overdue. It’s Tuesday. and then the claws will come. Even if they knew the coordinates we were floating through. barely drifting. maybe that’s for the best. It’s an investment. just a crack. Maybe it’s best if we just keep floating on. It’s ten years of work and a millennia of scientific advancement all rolled into one. They’ll come.about that. I’ll have to face them. Maybe it’s best if no one ever makes it out here or listens to this. and then there will be nothing between us. But then again. just enough. Not that it matters.
.reason why we only found one corpse on that derelict. . why it was aimed on a sure course for the galactic core. She must have known about Rose. They’re getting louder. Oh god. I. God. I hope no one finds us. why its own reactor had been blown into space. She must have. Somehow Cindy Hawk knew. She must have known everything. --66-- .
Looks like someone --67-- . we’ve all seen the vids growing up. “Yeah.” Grant glanced back toward The Junkyard Queen’s central corridor “You seeing this?” “Roger that.” Tessa’s eyes lingered on the age-pitted hull of the ancient starship.EPILOGUE: 192 years later “My god. “I mean. “I’ve got the ship on spectrograph. look at the size of that thing. . “Bigger than you thought she’d be?” Grant asked.” Static rose and fell in the pause. . but to actually see it in person.” Grant crossed to the console. pressed hands into the headrest of Tessa’s flight harness.” “Switch. edge of a grin playing at his features.
” “You think anyone’s still alive down there?” Tessa asked. looked up at Grant. Real weird. but after almost two hundred years?” Grant stared off into the abyss. “The Minerva carried temporary crew freezers in case the drive failed. “They still have power and life support. “Everybody suit up. “These readings are weird.” Switch’s voice crackled through the intercom.” “Lights are still on.” He reached up.blew the reactor out the back of the ship.” --68-- . “There’s only one way to find out.” “Can we get a reading on life signs?” “I’m getting something. We’re taking a walk. flicked the central intercom.” Tessa swivelled in the flight harness. No sign of other external damage. but I don’t know what to make of it. the dark and debris beaten hull of the Minerva.
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